The show must go on: Art Sparks continue to ignite in Cuyahoga Falls, Akron schools

April Helms
Kent Weeklies
Art Sparks has worked with the third graders in the Akron and Cuyahoga Falls school districts for several years. This photo was taken of the final performance in 2019. This year, the performances will be screened virtually for families of the students.

CUYAHOGA FALLS -- Third-grade students are still dancing, moving and learning in the Cuyahoga Falls and Akron public schools through the program Art Sparks -- just in a different way.

Traditionally, the instructors at Art Sparks, which is based in Akron, leads the third-grade students in the Cuyahoga Falls and Akron school districts in learning dances, movement and other activities, all connected to a theme. These sessions, which take place over several weeks in the school year, culminate in a performance for families.

This year, Art Sparks had to modify its program due to the pandemic, said Erica Piper, the artistic director and lead teaching artist.

"It looks different this year, but we are very fortunate that we were able to serve every child we ordinarily would," Piper said. "We had a full year, and everyone has a performance opportunity as they normally would. It's shaping up to be a unique performance opportunity. It's the most unusual school year students ever had."

In fact, Piper said that the students were able to try things that "may not have been available on a live stage."

This year's theme was "What Do We Need?" emphasizing social-emotional needs, Piper said. The program worked with students in the physical classrooms as well as students learning remotely. As well as the choreography, students learned about tenacity, a growth mindset and "trying different things until you get it right."

"They got to explore different people, like dancer Luigi [Eugene Louis Faccuito], who had been in an accident, or Jacqueline Woodson, the author, who had difficulty breathing. We were doing activities for self-care, mindfulness, yoga, breathwork, tools that students can take outside of our class for when they need to calm down and refocus. It's been a really fun curriculum, students have been really engaged with it."

Since Zoom cannot support hundreds of students on a Zoom call, each elementary school's third-graders "will be doing their own piece," Piper said. Performances for the students' families will be shown virtually between May 10 and 20, by invitation only. Art Sparks also is "putting something together, filming pieces in the Summit County Metro Parks." These pieces will be available virtually to the public, Piper added.

"It's coming together and feeling like a full, finished product," Piper said. "We could not have been able to serve our students without the leadership of the Akron and Cuyahoga Falls districts. It's been so great. The students are so thankful for that, too. This time has been extra special. We've learned a lot, and it has opened up possibilities for the future."

For details about Art Sparks, visit https://www.artsparksdance.org/ online.

Reporter April Helms can be reached at ahelms@thebeaconjournal.com

Students learn choreography and lyrics through an Art Sparks program. Art Sparks has been working with third graders in both the Akron and Cuyahoga Falls school districts for several years. This photo was taken in 2018.
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